Without starting point guard Anne Marie Holter (torn ACL on January 29th), No. 2 Seton Catholic looked vulnerable during the early stages of the Division II girls basketball state tournament.
While the reigning three-time state champions managed to squeak by Williams Field and Campo Verde in the first two rounds, the absence of their senior playmaker proved to be too much this time for the Sentinels in their 41-34 semifinal loss against No. 6 Flowing Wells on Thursday afternoon.
Senior guard Susan Spinner’s six points gave Seton Catholic (30-5) a one-point lead after one quarter of play, but things quickly unraveled for Karen Self’s squad inside Jobing.com Arena.
For the remainder of the first half, the Caballeros employed a 1-3-1 full-court press and it worked to perfection. Over the final six-plus minutes of the second quarter, Flowing Wells (29-4) went on a convincing 12-0 run to take a 23-12 lead into the locker room.
During that six-minute span, Flowing Wells forced eight turnovers which changed the complexion of the contest.
Without Holter to guide the Lady Sentinels through troubled waters, Michael Perkins’ team feasted off poor passes, and Flowing Wells was rarely threatened over the final 16 minutes of action.
In all, the Caballeros forced 29 turnovers en route to a 41-34 upset victory and a spot in Saturday’s state title game against either No. 5 Liberty or No. 8 Saguaro.
Flowing Wells’ potential largely hinged on the development of senior forward Lyndsey Leikem in 2012-13. While the Indiana commit was far and away the team’s best offensive asset, Perkins admitted that he wanted his star player to get everyone involved this season.
No clearer was that image than in Thursday’s semifinal.
Leikem finished with a game-high 20 points (6-of-13) but never tried to force the issue offensively. Her unselfishness allowed teammates Kyra Brinsfield (eight points) and Shalise Fernander (six points) to help carry the scoring burden, and Flowing Wells never looked back after taking a commanding first-half lead.
“She’s a special player,” Perkins said of Leikem. “She could have had 30 or 40 points all season long, but she is not that kind of kid. I thought this was the best chemistry group I’ve ever coached. They’re fantastic. They love each other.”
For Leikem, the win allowed her to extend what’s already been a stellar high school career, but more importantly it gave her a piece of redemption against a team that has had the Caballeros’ number in recent seasons.
Seton Catholic knocked Flowing Wells out of last year’s state quarterfinals and again took down Leikem and Co. 59-49 in the opening round of the Lady Hawk Classic back in November.
“They kicked us out of the tournament last year, so we were ready,” Leikem said. “We’ve been working so hard all season, and after winning the first two state games we had our heads up. We were ready to come out fighting and weren’t ready for our season to end.”
In defeat, Seton Catholic was led in scoring by Anabel Lopez, who scored all 13 of her points off the bench in the fourth quarter.
While Leikem’s senior campaign will continue, the same can’t be said for the Sentinels and their remarkable three-year run across 4A Division II and now Division II.
“I don’t think there are words that can really describe what it means to coach these kids,” said an emotional Self afterward. “Seniors Susan Spinner and Jessica Bailey are the kind of kids that put it on the line every day. They probably wouldn’t be valued by a lot of other coaches, and I know that might not make other varsity teams, but they play defense, play hard and they bring hustle.
“They have done everything I’ve ever asked of them. I don’t care that we lost, because I am crazy proud of them.”
Flowing Wells 41, Seton Catholic 34
Flowing Wells 9 14 8 10 – 41
Seton 10 2 6 16 -- 34
FW: Leikem 20, Brinsfield 8, Fernander 6, Walker 3, Cook 2, Portela 2,
Seton: Lopez 13, Heild 8, Spinner 8, Barcello 3, Willett 2